Dr. Falouji By SAM HATCHERThe Wilson Post
Still with a distinctive accent from a time in her life in which she lived in her native Iraq, Dr. Wiaam Falouji, a Lebanon neurologist, sings a rendition to “America, The Beautiful” as few in America have ever heard before.
She’s not literally singing the song, she’s living it.
She loves America. She loves everything about this country and its government and hastens to advise that Americans “shouldn’t take for granted” the amenities and assets enjoyed in the land of the free because she knows from a first-hand perspective that these gratifications are not necessarily found in other parts of the world, particularly in Iraq.
Falouji, who holds what’s known as a dual citizenship, voted a couple of weeks ago in the Iraqi elections. She has been a citizen of the U.S. since 1993 and because she was born in Iraq she is also able to retain citizenship there which makes her eligible to vote in Iraq’s national elections.
She has now voted twice in Iraq’s elections, casting her ballot in both instances in Nashville. Ironically, Nashville maintains one of the nation’s largest populations of Iraqi nationals and because of that Nashville has been selected twice as one of the voting sites for that country’s elections.
The recent election and one held four years previous are the only two elections that have been held since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Although Falouji left Iraq at age 13, she still has family living in Baghdad and is informed and current with regard to happenings there and about changes that are being realized in the country. She characterizes the changes as good and positive and attributes them largely to the two elections since Saddam’s departure.
She says the second election, the one held only a couple of weeks ago, demonstrated the overwhelming change in attitude now being claimed by many who live in Iraq.
She points out that, according to various media sources, “65 to 70 percent” of Iraq’s eligible voters participated in the election adding that they did so because they now know that “elections can bring change.”
She smiles, laughs ever so slightly, and says before Saddam’s government was overthrown voters in Iraq would go to the polls, vote and learn days later that Saddam had won reelection by “something like a 99.9 percent” margin.
“The people there,” she said, now realize that the elections are bringing change. The elections now are real. They are not elections that are controlled by the government.
Falouji says her mother, who now resides in the U.S. and also voted in the recent election, is “so enthusiastic” about the course of the new government and the progress that is being made.
“While still it cannot compare to the United States, there is progress being made towards a true democracy,” she said and this has made “my mother and others, including friends and family members who still live in Iraq, enthusiastic” about the future of the country and its government.
More and more the people in Iraq are learning that voting can make a difference and can bring change. They are learning, she said, that things are not as they were and because of this they have more confidence that their votes are going to count and that as a result of their voting there will be change.
The voting process in Nashville, according to Falouji, took almost 15 minutes or so to complete.
On a paper ballot she and others with Iraqi citizenships had the opportunity to vote for as many as 50 or more Iraqi legislators representing five or six political parties. She said on the day she voted there were others there not only from Nashville and Middle Tennessee but some who had made the trip to Nashville to vote from places as far away as Texas, Nebraska, Idaho and other states.
Despite living in America, Falouji said she had learned about many of the candidates appearing on the ballot from certain media sources and from her family and friends who may still live in Iraq.
“And in some ways it is like voting in an election here where there are two political parties and you know about each party. In Iraq there are five or six political parties. And, as in the U.S., we know about the parties,” she explained so if she does not know about an individual candidate she would know about the candidate’s political party and would cast her vote accordingly.
It’s been a long time since the doctor lived Baghdad. She has met members of her family who live in Iraq in Jordan for brief visits but she said she’s still not comfortable, because of the unrest and continuing violence, with going back to Iraq.
The U.S. “is where I want to be. This is my home, not Iraq,” she exclaimed.
She urged that Americans should not take their country and all of its privileges for granted.
Taking things for granted goes beyond America’s democracy, Falouji said.
Her mother and her two sisters who still reside in Iraq near Baghdad often remind her that electricity service is intermittent. Sometimes the electricity is on for three hours and then off for three hours. Water is not always clean and pure, and of course there is still the threat of violence.
One of her sisters is a pharmacist and the other a lawyer. As a family, they stay in touch with each other. Falouji knows from her family that life is now much better in Iraq than it was before the rule of Saddam, but she also knows it’s still not a perfect place to be.
There are still dangers and disruption. There are still attacks but fewer than before, and, as she reasoned, her family and others in Iraq “must go on with their lives. They must be resilient. Life has to go on.”
Dr. Falouji, M.D., DCN, earned her medical degree from Dow Medical College, Rarachi, Pakistan; served an Internship at the University of Maryland in Baltimore; a Residency at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.; a Fellowship at the University of Mississippi. She has practiced in Lebanon since 2000. Dr. Falouji is Board Certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology/Clinical Neuropsychology and is also Board Certified in Neuromuscular Medicine. Her offices are located in Lebanon at 1420 Baddour Pky., Suite 200. She is a member of the staff at University Medical Center.